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The Perils of Pidgeonholing

 

This Celtics team is hardly ever caught saying the “wrong thing” in a press conference or post-game interview.  One of the “right things”  that has been this team’s mantra throughout the year is the notion that everyone knows their role and they will fulfill that said role.  This is all well and good if you are fielding a team of neophytes trying to trying take down a perennial juggernaut (curious Thunder crack).  The only green attribute this Celtics’ team possesses is there attire.

This veteran savvy team has shown the ability to step up and step in to different roles if called on to do so.  Take Glen Davis in Game 2 of the Heat series for example.  With Kevin Garnett suspended, Davis was called upon to replace Garnett’s production and intensity.  Big Baby did all that and more, finishing the Game with a gutsy 23 points and 8 rebounds in 30 minutes.  This uncharacteristic stepping out of one’s role may be exactly what the Celtics need if they are going to make any noise against the Cavaliers.

A huge part of the Cavaliers offense is predicated on LeBron James getting to the foul line, and consequently getting the opposition in foul trouble.  Despite Kevin Garnett teaching the entire Celtics front court how to contest without making contact, James’ body type is such that it makes it near impossible not to draw some semblance of shot-altering contact.  In fact, James is such a match-up nightmare, it is almost a forgone conclusion that the Celtics will have to do some things out of their comfort zone if they are going to get passed James and the Cavaliers- and it starts with the front court:

Glen Davis: The Cavaliers have too much depth upfront.  They acquired former Allstar Antawn Jamison at the trade deadline only to get the front-court player they traded away back.  With Garnett on Jamison, this leaves Glen Davis to fend off Anderson Varejao- a clear mismatch.  Verajao is arguably the most active big man in the league.  Baby hardly lacks the intensity to match-up with Varejao, but unfortunately he is just not big enough, nor is he capable of being as active on the glass.  Davis will also be forced to spend some time guarding Shaquille O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and JJ Hickson.  Those three guys, plus Varejao serve as the four different archetypes of NBA big men.  Shaq with his girth and Wilt-like dominance.  Big Z has the ability to shoot the mid-range J thus drawing his defender out of the painted area.  Varejao is a hustlin’ menace who draws the ire of most opposing fans (yet, somehow I have grown to respect).  And Hickson is a talented and athletic young kid that likely will not see much time but should.

Big Baby is a “baby” version of all four of those players.  Everyone knows about Baby’s girth and energy, but he lacks the length to volley in put-backs like Varejao, he lacks the height to hamper a Shaq jump hook, and he lacks to quickness and overall athleticism to guard a JJ Hickson.  Baby’s shortcomings however, are not indicative of a Celtics second round defeat.  They are evidence of the ways in which Baby needs to step his game up, expand his skill set, and expand his role.

The Miami series gave Baby a chance to showcase a new skill in his bag of tricks- the mid-range jumper.  The Celtics will need this to be consistent, as well as encores of the spin move Davis exhibited on Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony in the fourth quarter of last night’s game if they want to get any meaningful production from their backup power forward.

Kendrick Perkins: Perkins had a breakout performance last night (and yes, 8 points constitutes a Perkins’ “breakout”) but more importantly, did not elicit a single travel call.  Perkins kept his happy feet at bay while making quick and decisive moves to the basket.  This stride has to remain consistent if he is going to enjoy any type of advantage on the Cavalier big men.  Perkins also had an exceptional eye for the rock on the block last night.  He ended the game with only four blocks, but each one was meaningful- whether it begot a change in possession or momentum. 

The obvious will be explored later with much more depth.  But expanding rolls may be one of the little things that will serve as a crux for this series and the only way the Celtics can get an edge on this Cavalier team.  The Cavs are very deep at nearly every position and the Celtics will most likely need to go deeper in their bench than was necessary to defeat the Heat.  Dare I say this series will have more than an uncomfortable allotment of minutes to guys like Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson, and Shelden Williams?

We shall see Saturday.

  • Ciaran

    I wonder if there will be any slipover from the thumb incident between Davis and Shaq?

    Will there be issues between Tony Allen and Lebron after their words towards the end of the last Celts vs. Cavs game?

    Could be tetchy series!

  • http://www.livefromapt.blogspot.com w2

    Hickson, Twan, Lebron, Andy, and a guard seem like a nightmare lineup for our crew. I wonder if the numbers bear this out. Any chance we will see some data about which C’s lineup has faired the best/worst…etc?

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    fared best/worst against Cavs line-ups? Or in general? All of that stuff is at BasketballValue.com, but sample sizes versus one team are too small to be really meaningful.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    i kinda like a baby on jamison matchup, depending on who the Cavs have in at the 5. frees up kg, perk and sheed for the bigs. thoughts?

    either way, all 4 bigs will be needed to contribute on the defensive end. but other than varejao, i think the Cs matchup OK in the frontcourt.

    i like the Cs chances in this series.

  • will

    garnett needs to punish jamison on the block… perkins vs shaq/Z I’m not going to worry myself too much about. It’s jamison and varajeo, varajeo in particular that needs to be kept in check.

  • Rich

    Garnett doesn’t have the ability to punish anyone on the block anymore. It isn’t like he was taking Beasley down there over and over. Just a spot up jump shooter, with the occasional post up and lob pass.

  • Lowenbrau

    I’m a Cavs fan who’s concerned about this series. I’m picking Cavs in six, but every game will be hard-fought and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go seven.

    Rondo and Ray Allen are the biggest worries. It seems like Allen shoots 200% from 3-point range against us, and he doesn’t even need any time or room to get his shot off. Scary….

    Many of you seem to be worried about Varejao, but so are Cavs fans. For some reason he was virtually non-existent in the Bulls series.

  • Brendan Jackson

    @Lowenbrau
    I think Varejao was hurt by playing against himself (Joakim Noah). The Celtics do not have an athletic bench big man and that pretty much why Celtics fans are concerned. Varejao kills the C’s every time. He’s definitely a bigger asset against the Celtics than Shaq.

  • Lowenbrau

    Brendan — good point. It was disappointing though to see Varjeao thoroughly outplayed by Noah. Going into the series I had thought Varejao was the better player, but the opposite appears to be true now.

    I doubt you’ll see Z much (if at all) in this series. Off the bench it’ll be a steady diet of Varejao and Hickson.

  • Jason

    Probably because Noah out-Varejao’d him. Nobody on the Cs does that, so he’ll reapper and we all here will be livid. (I’m not saying there isn’t a C who can do it because KG has the length, but seems not to have the motor anymore. And motor isn’t a physical skill, it’s a decision. If KG wanted to be insane all over the place, he could be.)

    I’m actually surprised Cavs are scared. Maybe it’s just the snake-bit history, but the Cavs should be clear favorites. Start with James who, despite what we all think about him, is easily the best, most dominant, most destructive, most unstoppable player in the league (and that includes defense). He can do ANYTHING he wants for himself. He’s better than all the top scorers at scoring. PLUS, he’s also better than all top scorers at facilitating, in fact, he’s better than some top facilitators at facilitating, including the two PGs on his own team.

    Ok, fine, we know James, but while the cast isn’t Pippen-esque, it isn’t bad. It’s WAY WAY WAY better than Miami’s. They have plenty of guys to space the floor and make you pay (Mo, Parker, West, Jamison) plus a mix of skill, size, length, strength and energy in the front court.

    Defensively, the Cavs are darn good, too.

    Sure, if Rondo’s constantly in the lane, Ray’s making 5 threes, Pierce isn’t clanging mid-range Js, Perk isn’t committing 5 TOs and KG’s J is falling, two people aren’t in foul trouble, yeah the Cs would be damn tough to beat. But, all those things come together pretty infrequently. To have it happen in at least four games just isn’t that likely.

    Both sides have both positive and negative what-ifs, but all in all, the Cavs have proven this year that they are the league’s best team and the inconsistent Cs are the ones with more to worry about.

  • Joel W

    “And motor isn’t a physical skill, it’s a decision. If KG wanted to be insane all over the place, he could be.)”

    I’m going to disagree with that one Jason. I just can’t imagine Kevin Garnett choosing to be less than insane.

  • Jason

    Just like offensive-minded players choose to conserve their energy on defense. But what’s their real excuse? I don’t want to try that hard. I haven’t trained enough to build up my endurance. Why are people like Noah, Varejao and even BBD and Rondo able to be seemingly everywhere (O and D)? Because they try. That’s it. KG could do it too if he set his mind to it. And he should. He should be good and fed up with someone like Varejao and make it a personal mission to outhustle him and completely neutralize him.

  • Jay P

    @Jason

    Can’t agree with you there, KG is pretty laterally mobile, but he’s never had great foot speed for a big man (sprint speed) and that definitely effects his abilities in that aspect.

    Also, you can’t compare KG with those guys, every player you just mentioned is nearly 10 years the junior of KG, and at their age, KG was that type of energy player 10 years ago. But a blown knee and 820 regular season games later, you can’t expect that anymore.

    He’s definitely conscious of re-injuring that knee, he has to be, one more and his career is probably over.

    There comes a certain point where you have to balance risk vs. reward, and KG definitely does that in dialing back the on-court intensity a bit (verbally, leadership wise, he definitely hasn’t changed, just watch him barking after every 15 ft jumper in Game 5.)

    Also, you have to consider foul trouble, BBD, Varejao can throw themselves at the ball, fly all over and flail about, get some extra loose ball fouls, and it really doesn’t effect anything, that’s what the team needs from them. The Celtics need KG in the game in the 4th, not riding the pine because he picked up 4 fouls jumping around like a madman.

  • Jay P

    Oh and Varejao also averages about 25 minutes a game, KG is certainly going to be playing a lot more than that throughout the playoffs.

    It’s a lot easier to run hard when you know you’ll be on the bench again before long to get a breather. But try sustaining that for an entire quarter and it’s a different story.

  • Shanique Mackey

    This one will be simple it will come down to who has the heart to go out there and take it. These teams are evenly matched and the struggle is the same both has great players but who ever wants it more will win it

  • Jason

    I agree with Shanique.

    This is very similar to Ray/TA defending Wade. If keeping Wade from scoring 40 is more important than Ray’s outside shooting, then Ray should sit and TA should play. (Granted Ray played ok defense and lit up the nets, so playing him worked out).

    In this case, if you determine that Varejao’s energy, D, cutting, rebounding, pestering is a big enough problem that it needs serious attention, then someone (and I clearly feel KG has the best chance of doing this) has to make the decision “stopping his hustle plays is crucial. I will focus on that first and other things will have to slide in priority.”

    I was never saying KG can do it all. Stepping up to Varejao’s energy is a formidable task. But no one on this team all year has shown “I will match that and negate him.” No, they all DECIDED (see, it is a decision) that playing as normal, with their normal assignments and priorities was more important than stepping up to him. No wonder he keeps killing them.

    These are all men and at some point, they have to say “F this. I’m not letting this guy do this crap to me and my team anymore.” All season, no one has. Will someone in this series? I sincerely hope so.

  • Jay P

    This is playoffs, forget about the regular season. It’s over.

  • Jason

    Yeah, those 82 games were meaningless. They don’t inform the discussion at all. Might as well not have played them. Nothing to learn there. Everything is different now. Should have just raffled off the playoff spots and seedings.

  • Jay P

    My sarcasm detection system is buzzing!

    But I think the Heat series is a bit of a testament to that not being far from the truth, with the exception of maybe Sheed, because well, he just sucks.

    But let’s be honest, as bad as Wade’s supporting cast is, that Heat team was hot coming into the playoffs (12 of 13) bad competition or not, it says something.

    And they were dismantled by the Cs, really, even the close games had the feeling that the Cs were in control the whole time. And it took basically a perfect storm of statistical anomalies (see: Ray allen FT% and Dwayne Wade 3 pt %) for the Heat to steal game 4.

    There have been some first quarter moments of the turnover problem creeping in. But that existed in 2008 too, they’ve always turned the ball over a lot. The difference was in 08 they made up for it in another ways (protecting the glass, forcing opposing turnovers, etc…) which they weren’t doing over the season.

    But all series even when things got tough, and they were coughing the ball up, they steeled their resolved, buckled down and made up for it. They didn’t quit, and they played smart basketball.

    It really seems like they just needed the playoffs to get that motivation to buckle down and not let mistakes snowball in games.

    So yes, forget about the regular season, it’s over.

  • I love Green

    So what if Rasheed decides to start trying, and plays the great defense we know he can play? We know Perk can guard Shaq, and Baby can guard Shaq. KG can guard Jamison, Hickson,(who is a worse version of Beasley) and all three of those guys can guard Z. I think Baby can guard Anderson. He has enough hustle, and too much pride to be outworked by Anderson. We need Rondo to be determined to go out and lockdown Mo Williams and then on offense average about 14, 11, and 6. Guys like West, Moon, Parker, and Varajeo get their good looks at the basket from Lebrons penetration. So whoever is guarding them needs to just reach in a little bit on Lebron, but mostly just stay home with the guys they’re on. Who cares, let Lebron drop 40 points and grab 12 rebounds. We gotta keep his assists down to about 5 or 6 per game though. That way he’s pretty much the only player being effective on offense.

  • I love Green

    I forgot to mention if Rasheed doesn’t step up his defense, to just give Davis all of his minutes.

  • mrduncan5

    In order for boston to win Rasheed needs to play better defense and post much more not shoot a three pointer and stand in one spot. Also Paul needs to return to the player he was when they won the tittle and attack more instead of shooting a jump shot

  • Jack Sprat

    I’m still far from relieved about Perk’s turnover issues. He might not have been whistled for traveling in Game 5, but almost every time he held the ball for more than a second his feet were moving. Somehow I doubt he’ll have that sort of luck the rest of the playoffs.

  • zeus

    I was checking the miami heat fan sites to see what they think of the loss only to find that Peninsular is Mightier link is no longer working ; shut down for the season i guess :)

  • http://ramon54mccla.diaryland.com/100429_54.html limewire

    dang sweet info man.

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